Placing four players in the top 10, Coach Chris Drake’s Torrey Pines’ boys golf team won its fourth consecutive
In Division II, a late La Costa Canyon surge earned the Mavericks their third straight banner, edging Cathedral Catholic by two strokes. On the overall chart (all-division), the Falcons were 25 strokes ahead of LCC which finished at even par.
While his squad got to the top of the leader board quickly and never looked back, Drake said it was not as comfortable as it might have seemed. “The result may have looked that way, but I didn’t think it was easy,” said Drake, whose team now advances, for the 17th year in a row, to the CIF Southern California Regional Championship. “With teams like La Costa Canyon and Cathedral, there’s so much talent out there and in golf, anything can happen.
“We were 11 strokes under par after the first day but it really didn’t feel safe.”
In the all-division individual competition, Falcon senior Isaac Rodea, who didn’t even play in the CIF event last year, prevailed by birdieing the final hole to finish the 36-hole tourney at 11-under, holding off 2017 champ Kento Yamawaki of La Costa Canyon by one stroke and junior teammate Caden Fioroni, the first round leader, by two. TP junior Justin Biwer tied for seventh at four-under and senior Alex Conley tied for ninth one stroke back of Biwer.
The unruffled Rodea claimed the presence of a past champion as well as the section’s top-ranked player tracking him didn’t result in any undue pressure or change of approach.
“I was just ignoring it,” said Rodea, who will be playing at Long Beach State next year. “I knew Kento was playing well and Caden is always solid.” With two holes remaining and the leaders playing on different holes after a shotgun start, Rodea was two-up on Yamawaki but found trouble, posting a bogey at No. 7. Meanwhile, Yamawaki birdied No. 8, pulling himself into a tie for the lead with one hole remaining.
“That final hole, I knew I needed a birdie,” said Rodea, who pounded a stout drive followed by a pin-seeking approach shot. “It was right on the hole but kicked right and spun back, leaving me a 15-to-17-ft. putt.
“The putt was right to left, I hit it firm and right into the center of the cup.” Rodea has become accustomed to dealing with high stakes situations. Less than a month ago, he was not even a sure thing to make the Falcons’ six-man CIF roster. An injury to last year’s fourth place finisher Andi Xu led Drake to hold a qualifying tournament (at Admiral Baker GC) to determine who would fill the final slot. Rodea carded a five-under par 67 to secure the berth by one stroke. He feels the day-to-day environment around the team fosters that kind of strong-minded toughness.
“In general, our team is very competitive and it drives each of us to get better,” said Rodea, who was 24th (+3) at CIF as a sophomore. “I had been playing well recently and carried my momentum from that to get into the top six and on through to this tournament.”
Rodea was strong off the tee throughout, missed just six greens over the two days and needed only “28 or 29” putts Wednesday. Drake believes Rodea’s temperament is one of the keys to his success.
“Isaac is really patient in his game,” said Drake. “He’s got all the shots and is good about finding his opportunities to make birdies and taking advantage of them. He works hard and it’s good to see it all coming together for him.”
Fioroni, who sat atop the CIF’s regular season rankings, put himself in good position, one-up on Rodea and three clear of Yamawaki after 18 holes. But after parring his first hole Wednesday, a lost ball led to a triple bogey on his second, putting any individual title hopes in serious jeopardy.
“I hit the same line with my driver as I did Monday and just couldn’t find it,” said Fioroni afterward. “I had to go back to the tee, ended up with a triple and had to grind my way back.
“I hit a good drive, it just didn’t turn up—it happens. Since it was only my second hole, I knew I would have the chance to make a lot of birdies.” Paired with Yamawaki (whose seven-under topped the field in round two), he felt his rival’s scorching play helped him.
“Kento was going off and I was actually feeding off him,” he said. “He’d make a birdie and I’d feed off of it—I knew what I had to do.” Fioroni wound up carding seven birdies on the day and walked away with a mostly bright outlook.
“It’s not really a good feeling to be so close and not be able to get the job done,” Fioroni lamented. “But the team won and that was our goal—that’s really what we were going for—and one of my teammates won so I can’t really be too down.”
The Southern California Regional is set for next Thursday (May 23) at Pasadena’s Brookside Glub Club. The winner will advance to the CIF State Championship, six days later at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach. Drake, for one, is anticipating the challenge.
“In the end, our boys really wanted this (CIF) and I think they were making at statement out there,” said Drake, whose club will be joined by LCC in Pasadena. “We’re ready to move on—to the regional and, hopefully, to the State Championship. I feel we have a good shot to win it.”